Having a major in journalism, I have had more interest than most I suppose in what all this talk about “fake news” means. Now I know.
Here is the best example I’ve yet come across. It is a feeble attempt by a blog called Yellowhammer News to defend Mike Sentance with untrue assertions and quotes from anyone except those who actually understand education.
It’s what we used to call propaganda, but that is not as quick and catchy as “fake news.”
Now it has never been my intention to use this blog as a place to play “he said, she said” with someone else’s written word. But in this case, the “article” and its contentions are so outlandish and not supported by facts, that I can’t turn my head. Nor can I turn my back on the people who labor every day running our schools and teaching our children.
People like Emily Nestor who gets up at 4:30 each school morning so she can drive 65 miles on two-lane roads from Blount County to Winterboro high school in Talladega County, or principal Chuck Yeager at Irondale Community School who has created countless community partnerships to help his high poverty school, or Catlyn Shields who is about to begin her second year of teaching in Madison County and has invested no telling how much of her own money in readying her kindergarten room, or science teacher Ann Monroe in Jackson County who last spring drove 400 miles so she could speak for three minutes at a legislative hearing in Montgomery, or Aimee Raney who was principal at Calcedever elementary in Mobile County which had to be the worst physical facility used for a school in the state, or Jackie Ergle, principal at Phil Campbell elementary who sat in her office and cried as she recalled the day the west Alabama tornado outbreak hit her school and community and one of her teachers and two students died.
I will not keep quiet while someone takes an uncalled for cheap shot at people like these.
So let’s look more closely at this hit piece. It begins:
“Michael Sentance has been Alabama State Superintendent of Education for just under a year. He’s a known education reformer who isn’t beholden to the teacher’s unions or the education establishment, but he greatly values the teachers themselves and the children they serve. In his short time on the job, his achievements are noteworthy.”
“Well known education reformer”? Says who?
After Sentance was hired, I contacted Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute at Stanford University: Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and best-selling author on education; David Berliner, Regents Professor Emeritus of Education at Arizona State University and past president of the American Education Research Association and Bill Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado and asked if any knew Michael Sentance.
No one had.
Unlike the author of this article, I contacted a number of honest-to-goodness educators around the state for their reaction to it. They did not mince words.
About him being an education reformer, a local superintendent said, “Mr. Sentance helped develop New England education policy years ago, but his recent experience over the past two decades suggests that he has been a non-player in the education world.”
(Editor’s note: Sentance’s resume’ shows that he served for 12 months as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts in 1995-96. This was a policy position appointed by the governor. The equivalent to the Alabama Superintendent of Education in Massachusetts is the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. Sentance tried to get this job in 1998 without success. He last worked in Massachusetts in 2001. Since trying for the job in Massachusetts, he applied for jobs in Kentucky, Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Nashville and Ohio without luck.)
“He greatly values teachers themselves.” From a veteran teacher: What the crap??? He has not shown one thing for teachers.” Another veteran teacher recalled her encounter with him two weeks ago at Mega conference in Mobile. “I saw him coming and stood in his path and said, ‘Good afternoon Mr. Sentance. How are you today?’ He looked me directly in the eye, dropped his head and walked around me without speaking. And he values teachers?”
Another veteran educator responded: “I have never heard him say anything good about Alabama teachers or colleges of education.” A teacher: “He does not advocate for educators nor does he ever listen to them.”
“He generally disfavors Common Core and he’s effectively laid the groundwork to replace it with standards that better serve Alabama’s students.” Really? As I pointed out in this post, the record simply does not support him opposing Common Core. From a local school board member, “Alabama adopted standards are finally making us move in the right direction. We need to have students college and career ready upon graduation.” A teacher says, “He has not made any great changes. All he has done is hire consultants.”
A local superintendent, “There has ben no discussion on Common Core or replacing any standards. Alabama has the Alabama College & Career Ready standards aligned to our student needs. (The time is long past for the Common Core debate and lingers only in some minds.)
“He’s secured permission from the federal government to free Alabama from the sub-par ACT-Aspire standardized tests, which were based on Common Core.” A teacher responds, “ACT Aspire is sub-par? It is a meaningful test when used correctly. It was never designed to be high stakes test the way Alabama was using it, but it is certainly not sup-par.” School board member, “The Federal government made us change Aspire testing–not Michael Sentance.”
A superintendent, “It was the Feds who initially said Aspire was not aligned to standards and then the state board took action to end the use of Aspire. Sentance has said that tests should be developed by the ALSDE but has taken no action to address it.”
“He’s made great progress in reforming Montgomery’s 27 failing public schools and restored the district’s fiscal stability in a short time—a monumental task.” Say what? As one veteran points out, “School hasn’t even started, How do you make changes in schools with the kids at home?” And a member of the Montgomery school board was more direct, “He HAS NOT reformed MPS. He has caused complete mayhem. Very few in our central office know their positions and job responsibilities since the state took over.”
Superintendent, ‘None of his policies or actions have had time to impact the actual student learning in Montgomery. To credit him with progress here is premature at best.”
“He’s finalizing a smart strategic plan called Alabama Ascending that will serve our children well.” A teacher, “The basic premise of Alabama Ascending is severely lacking. It tells what needs to be done–yet omits completely how to accomplish these tasks. It’s not a plan, it’s a pipe dream.” School board member, “What exactly is Alabama Ascending? I think we are descending at a very fast rate.”
“He’s put the stars of the profession—the teachers—at the center of his reform efforts.” Funny that no teachers know this. A state department employee, “I’m sure the vast majority of teachers will disagree with that statement.” School board member, “What makes us believe or even hope he values teachers? How has he shown support or interest in them? A veteran teacher, “This is just a lot of hot air. I don’t know a soul in education who supports Sentance.”
The writer ends with this: “For the sake of our children and teachers, we can only hope that the New Alabama will rise up and that will not be the case this Tuesday.”
If he is truly interested in our children and teachers he should spend time finding out what is really happening in our schools. Contact former Teacher of the Year Jennifer Brown at Vestavia Hills high school and ask her to set up a visit. Many legislators from around Alabama have done this. Or get in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will be glad to take him anywhere he wants to go.
We’ll go visit little rural Winterboro High halfway between Talladega and Sylacauga and he can get a first hand look at one of the most innovative schools in the state. We’ll go visit principal Christy Hiett at Fruithurst elementary and find out why her kids, in a school with very limited resources, excel in math. Or we’ll stop by Glen Iris in downtown Birmingham and let principal Michael Wilson explain how they came to have such a vibrant outdoor classroom experience.
I truly believe that Education Is Everyone’s Business. And way, way too important to be the target of just another politically motivated hit piece like this article.